The Duke and I (Julia Quinn, Bridgertons #1)

4 out of 5 stars

Cut to the Chase:
Definitely one of Quinn’s stronger works, this is an excellent introduction to her Bridgertons series We have the “Devastating Duke,” who is arrogant partially because he has had to overcome a traumatic childhood (father who ridiculed and ignored him because of his stammer), paired expertly with Daphne, the beautiful but usually overlooked beauty who has grown up surrounded by a boisterous, loving family.  They’re a very nice pairing in part because their backgrounds are so different, one bringing warmth and mirth to the other’s much colder, more solitary existence.  There is definitely some let’s-escalate-this-fight back and forth during the last one-third of the novel that keeps it from being a perfectly reviewed novel for me, but Quinn’s sense of humor (only sometimes over the top), and her deftness at drawing these characters saves it, making it a fun and refreshing read.

Greater Detail:
We start with the birth of Simon Basset, the long awaited heir to the dukedom.  His mother, after finally performing her duty to provide her husband a son, dies almost immediately, and Simon is left to an army of servants.  He doesn’t speak at two… or four… and finally only in stutters and stammers.  His father, an extraordinarily proud and disagreeable man, declares his son an imbecile, and actively tells people that his son is dead.  Simon, of course, strives to overcome his speech impediment, eventually enrolls himself in Eton and then Oxford, and becomes a quite brilliant student (whose thoughtful silences and care with words is interpreted as arrogance befitting a duke).

Simon returns to London only after his father has passed away and meets Daphne Bridgerton, who he finds almost irresistibly compelling and desirable (despite the fact that she’s the younger sister of his best friend Anthony).  He realizes that the town is full of “ambitious mamas” that he wishes to avoid, and that Daphne has been cast as the good and understanding friend and so they make a deal — they will pretend to court one another so that fewer debutantes throw themselves at Simon, and more men will notice Daphne’s charms.

There’s nothing about the plot or the setting that is particularly creative or different — but Quinn’s characterizations are strong and easy-to-relate to, fun and funny. These are people who not only can laugh at themselves and others, but delight in it.  Though there are some serious issues dealt with (and creating and resolving the arcs in the last third are not Quinn’s strength), the appeal of this novel is in its ability to find humor and lightness in just about everything and everyone.  The Bridgerton family introduced here is, like the rest of the characters, just enough out ot the norm to be interesting — they are boisterous and loving siblings who tease and torment one another, they eat dinner as a family, not believing that younger children should be relegated to nannies and meals upstairs, even if it means that children are tossing peas at the dinner table.

There aren’t a bunch of historical details or descriptions to ground you in the time period, but there almost doesn’t have to be — the novel is predictable the way any good romantic comedy (movie, book, etc) is, but delightfully so.  The characters are delightful, and you’ll be delighted for them when they reach their foregone conclusion happily ever after.

Other Things to Know:
This is the first novel in the Bridgertons series and one of the better ones overall — as with her individual novels, I think that Quinn is ultimately better at the set-up than the climax.  The first half of the Bridgertons series: Daphne (The Duke and I), Anthony (The Viscount Who Loved Me), Benedict (An Offer from a Gentleman) and Colin (Romancing Mr. Bridgerton) are all worth reading, the second half is a little more hit and miss.  Since the siblings are all fairly involved with one another (though certain subsets are closer in age and/or temperament), and there are a lot of details that are carried throughout — for example, a scandalous gossip sheet circulated by Lady Whistledown — this is a romance series that actually IS worth reading in order, starting with this one.

Comparisons to Other Authors:
You can tell that Quinn is an Austen fan (there are actually little details and quotes here and there that have just been slightly tweaked, i.e. “it is a truth universally acknowledged that a married man in possession of a good fortune must be in want of an heir”).  And her novels always rely more on well-developed, multi-layered characters who are fun, genuine and easy to relate to, as opposed to shocking twists in plot and/or creative details and asides.  Her sex scenes are sensual, though they vary (sometimes you get just the one consummation, other times there is more foreplay, etc), but the sex is really secondary to the character development (in a very well-written way) and usually an extension of the characters’ development and feelings as opposed to just… there… as it is with some authors.  I think that Tessa Dare and Julie Anne Long both are similar in terms of wittiness of dialogue and such, but when Quinn is on, she’s probably my favorite of the trio.

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